There’s clearly a crisis of trust in the media, fueled by populist leaders determined to disrupt the established order. But what impact does it have on trade and markets, and is it a glitch or here to stay? Top figures from The New York Times joined a panel in the Tradeshift Sanctuary at Davos on Wednesday to dissect the issue.
“There’s a completely legitimate debate about holding media to account and asking us how we do what we do, but without taking it to the level of hysteria and threatening language,” said Times CEO Mark Thompson.
The problem with the media climate today isn’t too few facts but “an explosion of facts,” which allows people to build whatever narratives they choose to believe, said Christian Lanng, CEO and co-founder of Tradeshift
So how do these narratives impact trade? For Lanng, they shape the national psyche and determine a country’s competitiveness.
When he arrived in the U.S. a decade ago, he said, he found a place filled with possibility. But the U.S. has bought into a narrative that it is under siege, threatened at its borders and fighting a vicious trade war with China.
“Now the U.S. is pivoting towards protecting what we have rather than looking at what we can gain,” Lanng said. That makes the country less competitive because the narrative has undermined the confidence of consumers and investors.
Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin sees another link between trust and trade. Skepticism of the media has its roots in the 2008 financial crisis, he said, which eroded faith in elites and institutions—“everyone here at Davos.”
“There was this cleaving of societies,” he said.
Our financial systems may be even more fragile today.
“If you think about a future crash, and you think of the utter interconnectedness of business and trade around the world, and you think about fake news, you can imagine a really striking disruption,” Thompson said.
If the financial crisis laid the groundwork for the erosion of trust, the internet sealed its fate. It democratized news and allowed everyone to “become their own reporter,” Ross Sorkin said.
Social networks played their role, presenting jumbled news feeds that make reliable and unreliable sources hard to distinguish, and providing the monetization and distribution that reward emotionally charged, and often fake stories.
“In a way, it’s a better business model,” Thompson lamented. “Real journalism is expensive; fake news you just make it up.”
But he has faith in the public’s common sense, he said, and it’s unclear if fake news really changes people’s minds.
The problem, said Lanng, is that the goal isn’t to change opinions but to undermine trust.
Looking ahead, Thompson sees a good future for big news organizations, but he worries about the ability of regional and local news to sustain itself.
Ross Sorkin sees subscriptions taking hold, and people returning to their own trusted sources.
“Maybe that will divide us even more in some ways, but hopefully it will help us all get a better sense of what the truth actually is,” he said.